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Our company recently completed our annual series of Business Planning Retreats during which cleaning and restoration contractors from across North America take valuable time away from their businesses to craft their goals, objectives and detailed action plans for the coming year.
I’m sure you are well aware of the statistics that prove that businesses operating with well-developed strategic plans typically produce better results than companies that do not plan. The positive effects of staying focused on a relatively small number of critical objectives are well documented.
My purpose here is not to tout the benefits of business planning, as creating the plan is only the first step in the process. Success is driven by creating alignment within your organization around your vision, goals, and the plan that is designed to move you in the right direction. Then you must assign responsibility for the detailed actions that have been defined, track execution, hold people accountable, measure results through metrics (KPIs) and take corrective action when needed. Each of these steps could be the subject of separate articles, so I want to focus on execution, accountability and results tracking, specifically for the sales function.
Let’s assume an effective sales plan has already been created that sets monthly revenue targets, identifies target market segments, defines how you will differentiate your company/product/service from your competition (based on the needs of your customers), and establishes measurable goals for the selling activities critical to success. Focusing on outside selling activities, your metrics may include the number of sales calls, scheduled meetings, meals, presentations or proposals by market segment. There may be targets for the number of networking events, trade shows, Chamber of Commerce meetings, prospects identified and met, or CE classes attended or produced. If you have numbers tied to each of these metrics, you may wonder what could possibly go wrong!
The fact is that quantity — the amount of selling activity that takes place — is only part of the story. I have managed a lot of sales people in my time that could make their weekly call reports look great. If they were charged with making 50 sales calls per week, their reports never showed fewer than that. If their goal was to have 12 meals per month with prospects, it happened every time. However, three or four of those lunches might be with their old fraternity brother who happens to have a business in one of our target markets! The point is, simply tracking the amount of activity is not an effective predictor of success. It would be like only measuring how many square feet of carpet your technicians clean with no regard for the type of customer, quality of the work or the geographic distance between jobs.
This is where results tracking and accountability become more challenging. Your accountability as the manager or owner responsible for the selling function is to ensure that the quality of the work as well as the quantity is sufficient to produce the desired result: achieving your revenue objective.
Let’s break this concept of quality, as it applies to the selling process, into three elements:
- Calling on the right organizations
- Talking to the right people
- Having the right conversations
Your plan identifies the market segments (e.g. financial institutions, health care facilities, insurance agents, commercial property managers, etc.) on which you will focus to generate increased revenue. You may be targeting different markets depending on the services you offer. So the first question is: Are the organizations on which we are calling part of the target markets we selected?
The next step is to decide if they are the "kind of customer" with whom you want to do business. That should be driven by those who are likely to value what you have to offer them. If this is based, as it should be, on what differentiates you from your competition it will mean you are bringing more value to the customer. Another criterion is the amount of business potential they represent. Your sales representative’s time is better spent, for example, developing relationships with insurance agents who represent a sizeable customer base of homeowner policies, commercial properties and casualty policies, as opposed to those who are focused on automotive or life insurance products.
The kind of customer with whom you want to do business is one whose philosophy of business, focus on customer satisfaction, beliefs regarding price and value and interest in building a long-term partnership are well aligned with yours.
I love it when, during a weekly sales meeting, the sales person reports: “I have a great relationship with Sally at ABC Co. Every time I call on them she takes the time to talk with me, and she says that she would love to do business with us.” The first question you need to ask: “Is Sally the decision maker?” Not that having a good relationship with others in the customer’s organization is a bad thing, but if you don’t have the relationship with the decision maker — the person who has the authority to influence or make the decision on whether to buy from you or to refer your company — the investment of your selling time talking to Sally is not going to result in more business. When reviewing sales activities with your sales rep find out if they have asked the questions: “Who in your organization is responsible for that decision?” or “Would someone else’s approval be needed to act on that decision?”
If we’re not talking to the decision maker, then we aren’t moving the sales process toward a close, toward a decision that can result in success for your sales person and increased revenue for your business.
Most sales people are extroverts. They get energized from interacting with other people. By their natures, they love "having the conversation" with people. As we discussed above, our job is to be sure that the conversation is taking place with the right people. An important understanding you need to have regarding your sales rep and their behavior is that their love of the conversation can result in unproductive use of selling time and failure to ask for the business. We all know that the critical step in any sales process is asking for the business. We can have a wonderful relationship, have identified the customer’s needs, etc., but if we can’t or don’t close, we aren’t likely to see results.
What can happen is that, for the sake of keeping the conversation they enjoy so much alive, your sales rep avoids asking for the business. Why, you ask? Because if they ask for the business and the answer is “no,” there is no longer a reason to continue the conversation! It’s therefore also our job as managers to be sure our sales people are carrying the selling process through to the end.
The main focus of the right conversation aspect of sales quality is about whether we are asking the right questions of the potential customer to obtain the information we need, whether we are patient enough to do more listening than talking and whether we are astute enough to use the information we gather — combined with our knowledge of the customer’s industry, likely challenges and priorities — to assist them in understanding how we can help them be successful. It’s about building the prospect’s trust that our company is the best choice for satisfying the need they have. As the manager and coach for our sales rep, it’s our job to be sure that each interaction we have with a prospective customer is moving the process forward, gathering information, building the relationship and building the trust needed to result in “yes.” These right conversations will more effectively — and probably more quickly — uncover whether we are calling on the right organizations.
One way to ensure the productive use of your sales person’s time and to keep the process moving forward is to require, as part of their call planning, that clear objectives are set for every meeting, networking event, trade show and presentation. Ask: “Why are you having this meeting?” and “What are you trying to achieve?” The answer may be anything from “determine who the decision maker is” to “get the customer’s commitment to do business with us or refer us to their customers who are in need of the services we provide.” The same applies to networking events and trade shows: “Who, or how many people, are you planning to meet?” or “How many warm leads are we expecting to generate at the trade show?” and “What types of businesses or potential customers are we targeting?” Setting the objectives for upcoming meetings and events and discussing the results from recent activities is where you should be focused during your weekly sales meetings.
The activity report your sales people provide every week gives you the information you need on the quantity aspect of their job performance. To ensure the quality aspect, implement ways in which to gather information and focus on the value of their work. That’s more likely to come from frequent discussions, participating in a day of sales calls and meetings with them periodically and the occasional follow-up conversation with a prospect with whom they have met.
Effectively tracking both the quantity and the quality of your company’s selling activity will result in more successful and motivated sales people, more effective use of people’s time and the significantly greater likelihood that you will meet or exceed the revenue goals in your business plan.
Tom Cline has a 28-year background in sales, marketing and operations. He is currently a business development advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA) where he works closely with business owners and their key management staff as both a business consultant and an executive coach. To learn more about VMA's services and programs visit www.Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.